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THIS IS THAILAND
A Week in Review: August 20-26, 2011


Who let the dogs out?

The problem with training stray mutts as guard dogs is that, no matter how many scraps and bones you throw them, they are still strays. Sooner or later they will bite someone and you will be faced with the moral dilemma of having to put them down. But what has this got to do with Thai politics? Find out here…

As the Phuea Thai party settles into its role as Thailand’s new government, optimism is increasing among red shirts still detained after last year’s troubles that they now have a better chance of being released on bail.

After protesting in support of Phuea Thai’s de facto leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, up to 100 imprisoned red shirts are now counting on Phuea Thai supporting their bail requests.

Using their parliamentary membership as guarantees, Phuea Thai MPs have already helped secure the release of 27 red shirts with more expected to follow.

Many of the optimistic detainees are charged with nothing more than the poorly-defined and widely-abused lèse-majesté law.  However, some red shirt prisoners who definitely won’t be getting bail are the 12 arsonists jailed last week for between 8 months and 34 years for burning down Ubon Ratchathani’s historic provincial hall.

Of course, only the poor go to prison in Thailand and Thaksin’s ex-wife, Potjaman na Pombejra, was last week acquitted on appeal of 546 million baht’s worth of tax evasion. The news comes soon after Thaksin’s two eldest children were also recently acquitted of any wrongdoing in another case of tax evasion.

And while – for the time being at least – Thaksin himself remains on the run, it seems only a matter of time until he returns to Thailand as a free man. The fugitive former PM took the opportunity of his well-hyped trip to Japan to grab the international spotlight and thumb his nose at his opponents in an otherwise pointless press conference.

Having established his alibi of being in Japan under a cute humanitarian pretext, Thailand’s master of spin told reporters that he had not been interfering in Thai politics and he had no plans to return to Thailand.

However, a majority of Thais remain unconvinced. In an ABAC poll of 2,193 Thais in 17 provinces, 68.9% of respondents said they wanted Thaksin to stop his political interfering; 20.5% said the he should have a role in helping the country and its people; while 10.6% thought he could do what he liked. Asked if the government was pandering to Thaksin, 40.9% agreed while only 19.7% believed the government was truly committed to serving the nation's interest.

Back in Thailand, Thaksin’s “clone” sister vowed to push ahead with amendments to the charter, which critics claim is simply the next step in an ongoing process to grant Thaksin an amnesty.

Also, last week, the government presented its policy statement to Parliament. Not surprisingly, the Democrats roundly attacked it during the ensuing three-day debate as hollow rhetoric.  

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra won the quote of the week award with her response to the accusations. "There is no reason for an elected government to be dishonest to the people," she said with a straight face.

In one of the most bizarre events of last week’s debate, two Democrat MPs were ejected by House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranon because they mentioned Thaksin Shinawatra.

Anwar Salae, a Democrat MP for Pattani, was discussing the government's policy on the southern insurgency when he referred to measures adopted by the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. Anwar was accused of violating the rules established for the policy statement debate, which menacingly forbade any mention of Thaksin.

Two Democrat MPs were ejected after protesting in support of Anwar’s passing reference to he-who-must-not-be-named.

The perceived bias of the Phuea Thai-appointed House Speaker prompted two men to make a symbolic gesture of laying a wreath outside Parliament.

Although somewhat bizarre and not in the best of taste, the protest was nevertheless peaceful. However, it angered a group of red shirts camping outside Parliament. Quite why they were camping outside Parliament is unclear, but they were incensed enough to assault the two men.

As Thailand’s inept police force stood by and did nothing, the two men were only saved from an even more savage beating when other red shirts stepped in to pull them away from the angry mob.

Unfortunately, the red shirts continue to show themselves to be totally intolerant of those who hold opposing views to their own. Whether it comes from insecurity over the strength of their own convictions, or from an inability to enter into reasoned debate, too many red shirts resort to violence in a bid to repress their opponents.  

Last week’s violent incident was just the latest in a long list that includes attacks on Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva’s car and home, the storming of the Asean summit in Pattaya, the Songkhran riots in 2009, the siege of Bangkok in 2010, and numerous other acts of intimidation and violence.

In another incident, a group of journalists called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last week to investigate alleged intimidation of the press by red shirts.

The reporters said they were concerned about an email hate campaign being conducted by red shirts. The emails expressed disappointment over news coverage of Yingluck and singled out a Channel 7 female reporter. The e-mails included the reporters name and photo with the worrying remarks, "Remember her face", and "Take care of her when you see her".

Also last week, red shirts intimidated a female reporter from China's CCTV news agency. The Chinese reporter had made the mistake of wearing yellow clothing as she stood amid red shirts to report on their rally. Red shirts surrounded and began jostling her, only relenting after the reporter's interpreter convinced them to stop.

Apologists point out that the red shirts have genuine grievances, yet no matter how just a cause may be, violence and intimidation have no place in the democratic Utopia the red shirts claim as their Promised Land.

Others defend the red shirts by saying it is only a minority of their huge numbers who act violently. However, the refusal of the red shirt majority to condemn the violence – and often even to acknowledge it – amounts to complicity.

However, aware of the potential damage to the righteous reputation it has cultivated around the world of leading a people’s revolution, Phuea Thai finds itself having to be seen to act against its ally. Pheua Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit and Kwanchai Praipana, a red shirt leader from Udon Thani, both expressed disapproval of the red shirt actions, and PM Yingluck assigned that bastion of morality Chalerm Yubamrung to investigate the matters.

The wily old Chalerm seized the opportunity to turn this negative situation to his advantage by promising a crackdown. However, the crackdown will not be on intolerance, violence and intimidation. It will be on lèse-majesté.

Perhaps those red shirts we mentioned at the beginning of this article might not be getting their bail after all.

Paul Snowdon – August 27, 2011

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